This week's 20th anniversary of the release of "Rudy" (which hit theaters on October 13, 1993) is a fitting excuse for an honest look at a genre we'd like to pretend doesn't exist: Movies That Make Men Cry.
Let's face it, if you're a guy who sheds a tear during the sequence where the team members leave their jerseys on the coach's desk one by one so that no-brawn-but-all-heart Rudy Ruettiger (Sean Astin) can finally suit up and live his dream of playing Notre Dame football with his father watching in the stands, then you're in good company. No need to be ashamed if you start blubbering right then and continue for the rest of the movie.
In fact, movies about sports often make guys cry. So do movies about fathers and sons. "Rudy" hits both nerves and then some. If you want to make a movie that makes men cry, make it about athletics, dads, dogs, war, male bonding, lost love, horrible catastrophes, or some combination of these. So grab the Kleenex because here are 15 such movies that'll get the waterworks flowing.
Gallery | 'Rudy' and 14 Other Movies That Make Men Cry
- 'Up' (2009)
Guys, you are allowed to cry at cartoons. Whether it's Bambi's mother getting killed offscreen by a hunter, or Simba losing Mufasa to Scar's treachery in "The Lion King," or even the whole farewell sequence at the end of "Toy Story 3," you needn't fear misting up over a piece of Disney animation, since everyone else watching will be doing the same. But you're especially allowed to lose it during the sequence near the beginning of "Up," tracing wordlessly the whole of Carl and Ellie's marriage, from their early dreams of exploring Venezuela's Paradise Valley to their heartbreaking discovery that they can't have children, to the repeated raiding of their Paradise Valley fund to pay for more pressing matters, to Carl's final determination that the aged seniors make the trip, only to have Ellie sicken and die before they can go. And then, to Ellie's regret-free message in her scrapbook, that life with Carl was adventure enough for her, and that he should now go and have an adventure of his own. Accompanied by Michael Giacchino's subtle but efficient emotion-tugging score, the whole sequence is so adroitly and economically rendered that you'd have to be a stone not to cry.
- 'Spartacus' (1960)
There are many reasons to cry in "Spartacus," especially in the second half of the epic, when Kirk Douglas's initially successful slave revolt begins to go horribly wrong. There's the treachery of the Romans, the terrible losses in combat, and the dire fates awaiting the women and children after their husbands are slain in battle. Still, it's hard not to be moved to tears by the group solidarity of the famous "I am Spartacus" scene, in which every soldier identifies himself as Spartacus rather than finger their leader and hand him over for crucifixion. There's also the moment at the very end when the dying Spartacus lives long enough to see his wife and child escape to a life of freedom, but that moment goes by so quickly that it almost doesn't register. No, stick with "I am Spartacus" as the most emotional scene of brotherhood and self-sacrifice in a movie full of such scenes.
- 'Saving Private Ryan' (1998)
The framing device at the beginning and end of Steven Spielberg's World War II epic -- in which the now-aged Ryan mourns for his lost brothers-in-arms at Omaha Beach -- is an elbow-in-the-ribs reminder that this story is supposed to make you cry. It's really not necessary, since the heart of the story is enough, from the horrors of the D-Day invasion to the no-nonsense heroics of Capt. Miller (Tom Hanks) and his men, to that final plea of "Earn this" that sets up Ryan for a postwar life that can't even begin to redeem all the sacrifices that made it possible. We don't learn what Ryan did after the war, but nothing he experienced could have made him as fully alive as he was while fighting alongside his comrades. No wonder Ryan cries; wouldn't you?
- 'Rudy' (1993)
Notre Dame holds a storied place, not only in college football history, but in the history of sports movies that make men weep. A half century after "Knute Rockne: All-American" (with the dying Ronald Reagan inspiring the "Win one for the Gipper" speech), we got "Rudy" from filmmakers David Anspaugh and Angelo Pizzo, the same director and screenwriter behind the cry-worthy sports drama "Hoosiers." Here, they tell the true story of Daniel "Rudy" Ruettiger (Sean Astin), a blue-collar guy who dreams of playing for Notre Dame despite lacking the academic credentials or any football skills. (Also, Astin's Rudy is a wee fellow not built to be a linebacker.) But what he lacks in qualification he more than makes up in heart, and after spending several seasons as a tackling dummy, he finally gets to wear the uniform for one game and make his father proud. The scene where the other players turn in their jerseys so that Rudy can have their spot is a famous tear-jerking moment, but there are plenty of others during Rudy's seemingly impossible quest and all the punishment he takes along the way.
- 'Rocky' (1976)
Later on, when the multi-sequeled Rocky Balboa became something of a cartoon superhero (a cousin to Sylvester Stallone's Rambo as an icon of Reagan-era American triumphalism), it was much harder to drum up any sympathy for him. After all, he was no longer an underdog, a hungry palooka fighting for recognition and redemption, a gentle soul for whom taking care of two turtles and courting a mousy neighbor (Talia Shire's Adrian) seemed like challenges nearly as difficult as the ones he'd face in the ring. Rocky's transformation of Adrian into the woman he imagines her to be only presages his transformation of himself into a contender who can go the distance with heavyweight champ Apollo Creed. In that first film, he gives both Adrian and Apollo his best shot, and that's worth tearing up for. Later, not so much.
- 'The Pride of the Yankees' (1942)
Like "Brian's Song," this is another famous tale of a real-life sports hero cut down in his prime by a cruel disease. In Lou Gehrig's case, it was after he'd played enough consecutive games to earn the nickname "The Iron Horse." Suddenly, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis robbed him of his stamina, leaving him with just enough to make that famous farewell speech in Yankee Stadium in 1939. As Gehrig, Gary Cooper delivers that speech ("Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth") in his usual no- nonsense smile, making it all the more poignant and tear-jerking.
- 'Marley & Me' (2008)
Every true love story ends with one of the partners dying. That's especially true if one of the partners is a dog. It's tough to watch a dog ail and suffer with age, whether it's "Old Yeller" or "My Dog Skip" or "Marley and Me." Especially since Owen Wilson so often plays loose, jokey guys who shy away from commitment. But here's a Labrador retriever that Wilson's John Grogan has raised since puppyhood, who has provided him with fodder for countless newspaper columns, and who has been there for important life cycle events throughout John's adulthood and marriage to Jenny (Jennifer Aniston). So when it comes time to put Marley down and bury him, Wilson's Grogan faces the most emotionally wrenching experience of his life.
- 'The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King' (2003)
"Rudy" star Sean Astin gets another moment in the Scenes That Make Men Cry pantheon, this time, in what is essentially a war movie. As hobbit Samwise Gamgee, his fierce loyalty to ringbearer Frodo (Elijah Wood) is always touching, but never more so than near the end of their quest, when Frodo lacks the strength or will to climb Mt. Doom, where he can finally destroy the ring. Sam famously tells his friend that he can't carry Frodo's terrible burden, "but I can carry you." Up goes Frodo onto Sam's back, and away goes any hope you have that you can watch the hobbits' adventure and escape emotionally unscathed.
- 'Kramer vs. Kramer' (1979)
First, Mom (Meryl Streep) abandons husband Ted (Dustin Hoffman) and seven-year-old Billy (Justin Henry). Over the course of 15 months, workaholic Ted stumbles often but ultimately learns to be a good dad to Billy. And then, Mom suddenly reappears and demands custody. Any guy who's ever been a dad, or who remembers the fierce protectiveness of his own, will find plenty of opportunities here to bawl, whether its Ted carrying Billy to the hospital in his arms after a playground injury, the courtroom scenes that twist what we've seen in order to make Ted look like an unfit parent, and any scene where Billy himself cries, which happens often. (Not even an actress as talented as Streep can make you sympathize much with the mom, against whom the sympathy deck is stacked.) Then again, given today's economy, the scene where the desperate Ted gets fired -- essentially for having prioritized his child over his job -- may be enough to make men cry.
- 'Frequency' (2000)
A ham radio and some quirky sunspot activity allows policeman John Sullivan (Jim Caviezel) to communicate across time with his father, firefighter Frank (Dennis Quaid), who died 30 years earlier. In fact, the son is able to use his knowledge of the past to prevent his father's death. Of course, there are unintended consequences -- most horribly, the murder of John's mother. Father and son must work together to save the mom while preserving their own ethereal bond. This one plays the fathers-and-sons and lost-love chords with manipulative skill.
- 'Field of Dreams' (1989)
For a while there, Kevin Costner was king not only of baseball movies, but of daddy-issue movies as well. This favorite covers both and finds the link between them. Costner's Ray and his late father represent the seemingly unbridgeable generational chasm cracked wide during the upheavals of the 1960s, but it turns out a love of America's national pastime is enough to heal all wounds. Not just for Ray's family, but also for a tormented and reclusive writer (James Earl Jones), the ghosts of the Chicago Black Sox (forever in baseball purgatory for having thrown the 1919 World Series), and indeed, Americans of all stripes, who don't even know what mysterious force is drawing them to a baseball diamond in the middle of an Iowa cornfield. Tearful moments abound, whether it's Burt Lancaster as a suddenly old man who's given up baseball glory to save lives as a doctor, or Ray finally asking his dad if he'd like to have a catch. Like other movies on this list, it's shameless and effective.
- 'Cinema Paradiso' (1988)
In Giuseppe Tornatore's Fellini-esque favorite, an Italian boy learns a love of movies from his mentor, a crusty old projectionist, Alfredo (Philippe Noiret). Since small-town values prevail, all the movies are censored by a local priest, who orders Alfredo to snip out all the kissing scenes. Years later, the boy returns, a middle-aged man and successful filmmaker. Alfredo has died but has left him a legacy -- all those forbidden kisses, spliced together. Watching that montage, in which a lifetime of repressed emotion gushes forth, is emotionally overwhelming enough to make the viewer's tears flow as well.
- 'The Champ' (1979)
This is the saddest movie ever made; science proves it. The 1931 original, with punch-drunk boxer Wallace Beery risking his life in the ring on behalf of son Jackie Cooper, is plenty sad, but according to the aforementioned study, the 1979 remake has it beat. Here, Jon Voight is the battered fighter and Ricky Schroder the doe-eyed kid whose custody drama makes up much of the film. The movie's final sequence, where Voight fights 'til he drops, prompts Schroder and even the hardened boxing veterans in the room to start blubbering, and it'll do the same to you.
- 'Brian's Song' (1971)
This movie was made for TV (it was later released theatrically after becoming a ratings hit), but it's at the top of seemingly every guy's list of movie's he'll admit make him cry. The real-life friendship between Chicago Bears football stars Gale Sayers (Billy Dee Williams) and Brian Piccolo (James Caan), a friendship that transcends race and both teammates' competitive nature, is the heart of the movie. So when Brian is cut down in his prime by cancer, men lose it. Especially when they hear Williams' famous speech: " I love Brian Piccolo. And I'd like all of you to love him too. And so tonight, when you hit your knees, please ask God to love him."
- 'Bicycle Thieves' (1948)
Vittorio De Sica's tale of post-World War II privation in Italy shamelessly grabs the heartstrings and never lets go. Here, a dad and a son struggle to get by. Papa Antonio gets a job hanging posters, but the bicycle he needs for the job is stolen, and he and little Bruno cover the streets of Rome looking for the stolen bike. The man playing Antonio, Lamberto Maggiorani, is not a professional actor, but his haunted face is convincingly real. A cornerstone of Italian neorealism and world cinema, "Bicycle Thieves" continues to influence filmmakers to this day (see the recent American remake, "A Better Life," where the dad is a Mexican immigrant in Los Angeles), but all you need to know is that the movie, especially the ending, will completely floor you.